Help! I Need to Install Sheetrock, Now What?
The installation of sheetrock is a relatively easy project for the homeowner. However there are some tricks of the trade, which unless you have installed sheetrock as an occupation, may not be commonly known. Listed below is some standard sheetrock information, as well as techniques that will assist you in the installation of sheetrock.
1.) Sheetrock is available in various thicknesses. The thinner the sheet of sheetrock, the easier it is to install, due to the weight. The difference between 1/2 inch sheetrock, and 5/8 inch, is considerable and if you are an amateur in sheetrock installation, the thinner the sheet, the better. However, similar to most conditions in construction, normally the heavier the material, the better the final product. For basic information, any thickness less than a standard 1/2 inch piece, will not provide the best quality finished product unless used to overlay another heavier layer of sheathing.
2.) Sheetrock is available in various sizes. In most cases, unless a special order, the sheetrock sheets will always be 4 feet wide. However, you can order sheetrock lengths that are 8, 10 or 12 feet in length. The most common size is the standard 4 by 8 foot sheet. This is the preferred size for most homeowners. The additional skill level required to properly handle larger sheets, should be left for the professional sheetrock installers.
3.) Double thickness. It is customary, in more exclusive installations, that two layers of sheetrock are installed. This technique is not normally a homeowner application, and is performed by contractors that specialize in sheetrock installations on a larger scale. However, the technique should be understood to allow you, the homeowner to realize that such a technique exists, and the ultimate quality of the finished product will provide a more stable and substantial wall finish. In most cases, the application is performed with a heavier layer of sheetrock as the initial layer, and a thinner sheet applied over the top. The second sheet is the only layer that is finished with taping compound.
4.) Different types of sheetrock. There are different types of sheetrock for different applications. The most common sheetrock is the standard gypsum board sheets, which are installed on the majority of walls. These sheets are commonly an off white color. There is also waterproof sheetrock that is normally a green color. This sheetrock is installed in wet areas, such as the bathroom or around sinks, bathtubs, etc. There is a new sheetrock that has just been recently introduced. This is the purple colored sheetrock that is more resistant to mold than previous sheetrock grades. Technology and research is constantly improving the ability of the gypsum material, to withstand moisture and mold growth.
5.) Fire rated sheetrock. Although sheetrock is fire resistant, there is also a special type of sheetrock that provides an additional level of fire rating, than the standard sheets. This type of application is generally used in stairways, elevator shafts or even ventilation shafts. There are different types of brands that offer different levels of fire retardation. Shaft wall is a heavy gypsum board product that is specifically engineered and available for special 1 hour and 2 hour rated assemblies. This shaft wall product must be installed in accordance to manufacturer’s specifications to provide the proper fire rating.
1.) Sheetrock is normally cut with a standard utility knife. In most cases, it is recommended to score the front or finished side of the sheetrock and snap the panel, to cause a clean and straight hinged break along the sheetrock panel. The panel is then bent at the score line, to approximately a 90 degree corner, and the utility blade is then run down this bent seam, to fully cut the backside of the sheetrock panel. It is recommended that the utility blade is kept extremely sharp to avoid ripping the sheetrock or partially cutting the joint. Replace the blade on the knife at least, every 10 cuts. If the resultant cut edge results in a rounded gypsum board core projection, the utility knife should be used to scrap this rounded projection down to an even surface, perpendicular with the surface of the panel.
2.) If the sheetrock is being applied to the ceiling, then a series of deadmen, or supports should be constructed. A deadman in this case, is assembled with 2 X 4’s, with a horizontal piece, attached to the top of a longer piece of 2X4. The length of the longer 2X4, should be approximately 4 inches longer than the floor to ceiling height of the room. The horizontal piece of 2X4 should be approximately 2 feet long, and securely fastened to the top of the vertical piece. To support the piece of sheetrock along the wall, attach another 2X4 horizontally, approximately 2 inches lower than the ceiling joists, attached to the wall studs. This piece of wood will support the end of the sheetrock against the wall, and will allow you to pull the deadman that you have, within arm’s reach, towards you to firmly push the sheetrock panel against the ceiling joists. If this technique is used, one person can easily, with some practice, support a 4X8 piece of sheetrock, firmly against the ceiling. Once the sheetrock is in place, the sheet can be adjusted to position the panel exactly as required for fastening. The construction of these deadmen can be customized as needed; using furring strips or scraps material that is already present on the jobsite.
3.) If the sheetrock panel is being applied to the wall, another type of helper, will allow you to firmly push the wall panel up to tightly to meet the ceiling sheetrock panel. It is recommended that the ceiling sheetrock be installed, prior to the wall panels, to allow the ceiling sheetrock panel to rest on the top of the wall panel. This will decrease the cracking of the sheetrock application at the wall and ceiling interface. This additional helper will allow you to push the wall panel firmly upwards towards the ceiling and is constructed by attaching a fulcrum in the middle of a smaller piece of wood that is tapered at one end. The easiest explanation for this helper is to imagine a small, see saw, that is inserted under the sheetrock panel, at the bottom, and with your own weight, you will simply step on the other end of the fulcrum and force the panel upwards into the ceiling panel. You will have to attach the panel with sheetrock nails or screws as you push up the panel and hold it in place. This will position the panel off the floor, where the baseboard will easily cover, and provide a very tight joint at the wall to ceiling interface. This use of a helper to adjust the wall sheetrock with your foot, allows freedom for your arms to operate the screw gun or hammer to attach the sheetrock panel to the wall.
4.) It is recommended that sheetrock screws and not nails be used to attach the sheetrock panels to the supporting wall studs or ceiling joist. The use of screws will reduce the amount of pop outs that will occur, if you use nails, and will allow a more controlled installation of the fasteners. The screws should not be embedded into the sheetrock face any deeper than to simply dimple the paper. The screw should not break the surface paper of the sheetrock panel. The proper setting on your screw gun will accomplish this task with a little practice. The idea of the fastener is to provide the most strength without compromising the surface of the sheetrock and to allow a shallow dimpling effect to accommodate the taping compound.
5.) The recommended spacing of the sheetrock screws is 6 inches on center, along the edges of the panels and at the supporting studs or ceiling joists. It is recommended that straight lines be drawn at the studs and ceiling joist, to aid in the proper placement of the screws or nails. I suggest that the floor be marked off when the wall joists are exposed, and the ceiling joists be measured from the corner of the room to locate the ceiling joists. The time taken to properly mark the middle of the supporting studs, or ceiling joists will enable the accurate installation of the fasteners. Do not guess, because screws or nails that are not properly embedded in the studs, or the ceiling joists will simply work themselves out of the surface of the sheetrock panel, and require future patching and maintenance. Experience will teach you that with the use of a 4 foot level, the vertical lines can be easily drawn on the wall sheetrock and the use of a chalk line will assist with the proper markings of the ceiling sheetrock from wall to wall. The time taken to properly mark the sheetrock is extremely important.
6.) The best method of cutting the sheetrock panels in the proper location for outlets, light fixture boxes or other cutouts necessary is to purchase a plunge cutting tool. We always used to use a small plunge router; however specialty tools have been developed to allow the plunging of a cutting bit, into the center of the outlet box or light fixture box, and by using the cutting bit, cut along the perimeter of the required opening. This technique will produce an even and clean cut, which is consistent with the item in the wall or ceiling. By using this type of tool, there is no overcut that has always occurred and caused the need to infill at many of the openings within the sheetrock panel.
7.) The taping application of sheetrock is an art form that requires practice and patience. In most situations there is a three coat application required, to properly finish the joints and the screw locations. The first application is a quick fill of the void, without the concern of fully filling the void. The initial application is normally used to embed a tape that spans the joints of the sheetrock and will prevent the joint from opening or cracking. The sheetrock tape is a paper tape or, if additional reinforcement is required, a fiberglass tape that is placed over the first application of compound, and then embedded into the joint with a second layer of compound. The second full application of compound is used to further feather the edges of the joints and screw dimples. Feathering means spreading the taping compound further away from the actual joints being taped. The second application, is intended to spread out the entire joint to allow a more even and consistent surface. The third application of tape is intended to finalize the entire operation, and make the surface of the sheetrock uniform and consistent. In most installations, a final sanding is recommended, to blend all of the surfaces together. It must be noted that this final sanding will cause the development of a fine dust that will settle everywhere. An important note is the less sanding, the less cleanup, and the easier the final completion of the project. Take your time when taping, and do not try to fill in the gaps and inconsistencies with one application. Many thin applications of taping compound, will result in a more consistent and professional surface appearance.
Some final tips
1.) Do not place all the sheetrock, when delivered in the same area. Sheetrock is extremely heavy and can cause structural damage if located over the same floor joists or ceiling joists. Spread the load of the sheetrock out. This will also minimize the need to move substantial quantities of sheetrock around the project site.
2.) Sheetrock is extremely susceptible to moisture and water. Do not store the sheetrock outside or even, if possible, in the garage. Try to have the sheetrock delivered and stored indoors, preferably a temperature controlled environment. Do not order the sheetrock until you are ready to install the sheetrock.
3.) Coordinate the delivery of your sheetrock to correspond to your schedule. Do not deliver too much sheetrock at one time, you will be tripping over it and it will be more susceptible to damage and moisture. Sheetrock stored can be susceptible to damage, limit the amount of material in storage around the job site.
4.) Coordinate the delivery with a boom truck especially if the sheetrock is going upstairs. Again, sheetrock is heavy, and to manually bring it up two or three flights of stairs is difficult. Most suppliers will have boom trucks that are capable of presenting the sheetrock directly to an upstairs window, where it can be off loaded. If needed, during the construction of the project, coordinate the proper window to be used for loading the second and third floor by delaying the installation of the final window or door.
5.) Shop the purchase of the sheetrock, tape and compound, to at least three different suppliers of the material. Sheetrock is highly competitive and prices can vary. I suggest that you find out the location that the majority of professionals are buying their material from, and order your material from similar suppliers. In most cases, the larger box builder supply stores will not have the most competitive pricing.
6.) Buy as much of the order, in bulk as possible. Have the supplier only deliver the sheetrock you need for a few days of installation. The screws should be purchased in large quantities, and the best sheetrock screws should be identified by the supplier of the sheetrock. Normally the length of the screw will be determined by the thickness of the sheetrock panel. Simply ask the recommended fastener for the sheetrock you are purchasing.
When all else fails, and you are still not comfortable with the work involved in sheetrock installation, there are several professional and competent sheetrock installers. In this case, the best method of finding the most competitive and competent is to ask for recommendations from the suppliers. Sheet rocking companies are highly competitive, as are their suppliers; you will not be misguided by the supplier, when asking for the best installer recommendation.
Good luck! Sheet-rocking can be both fun and rewarding. Take your time, and you will improve the more sheets you install. Maybe you can come up with some clever labor saving contraptions to assist you in the installation of your sheetrock panels. Let me know, if you do! Enjoy!